Friday, October 24, 2014

Race Report: John Holmes 50k (aka My REAL Maffetone Test)

Finisher Glass and Tech Shirt 

I realize that it has been awful quiet over here lately. That is partially a function of the state of my running and partially a function of the rather quiet summer running season here in Florida. With the temperatures cooling down some I was able to do my first race of the season, the John Holmes 50k. This race served two functions. It got me back to the type of running I love (trail ultras), and it also gave me a chance to get an updated Maffetone test of sorts, which was long overdue (as one recent comment on the blog pointed out).

First let me give a quick recap. I have been training by heart rate since late January as I started on my quest to regain fitness after a move and layoff. I became intrigued by the method of Phil Maffetone, which I talked about in another post.  I spent the entire spring and summer training aerobically. Early in the process, I did a test and noted the slight improvement in fitness, but I did not do follow-up tests because the weather got hot, and my paces at the training heart rate slowed down because of this. Testing would have been pointless because it would not really represent what was truly happening in terms of conditioning. I just soldiered on trying to prepare for a September marathon. It was a disastrous failure because although I was aerobically fit, my quads and calves had other ideas about a severely downhill marathon that I was not prepared for.  Even before the DNF, though, I had already decided that would be my last road marathon. I just could not wait to get back to trails and ultras!

Fast forward to October and cooler weather in FL.  I was entered to run my first 50k since my streak of 50ks in 2012. The John Holmes 50k is on what can be considered a “local” course for me, as it was only about 30 miles from my house in the CroomWildlife Management Area. The course itself is a 7 mile loop, done four times (obviously) with short portions at the beginning and end to make up the mileage and get to and from the trail portion from the start/finish. I had not been down to the park to run, but I had seen pictures and read the descriptions. The course is pretty typical of this part of Florida: packed sand trails, mostly single track, pine and cypress trees, a few hills, a few roots here and there to keep it interesting, lots of sun by midday. The race was small. As per the site, the field is limited to 250 runners. The results show 79 in the 50k, with the rest spread over the 16 mile and 9 mile options.

I went to the race by myself, hoping to meet a few runners from the FUR (Florida UltraRunners) group on Facebook. My approach was very low key because this was just meant to be the first of several events used as training runs for a 50 miler (Bear Bait 50 miler) that I will be doing on my birthday in January. I was hoping to try out a few things to see things to see how they would work for the long haul. One was to try out racing by HR rather than pace. A second was to work on refining a run/walk strategy that would work to keep me going strong through the entire event. The third was to practice fueling and hydrating more effectively.

I got to the race early.  Start time for the 50k was 7 am, which is not quite daylight here right now. Unfortunately, for me “low key approach” is also a synonym for “didn’t bother to pack properly.” One of the things I meant to throw in our race morning but forgot was my headlamp. I stumbled around in the dark trying to get ready and use the bathroom, hoping that by the race start I would at least be able to see my feet. While I was waiting for the start I did manage to meet two FURs that were parked next to me. Goal one for the race completed. (That may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but I am pretty shy when it comes to meeting new people. I hate being the kid on the side of the playground who doesn’t know anyone.) As weird as it sounds to some who may already know me, introducing myself was probably the hardest part of the day.

By the time the race started, it was still a little dark, but thankfully the first ten minutes or so were on a flat packed sand (or maybe limestone) road that was nice and white. In the early light it was not difficult to see where we were headed, and there was not much to trip over.  I had decided for this race not to wear a pack. I knew it was going to get hot, and the aid stations were going to be close enough together (3 on each loop) that I did not think I would need more than a hand bottle. I was feeling pretty good at the start, with the cool temps.

I started mid-pack and just cruised along making sure that my HR was where it should have been. To keep my ego out of this equation, I had set my watch so that I could only see my HR and my lap time (so I would know when to walk).  I promised myself I would not peek at the other screens that showed pace, and even late in the race when I was wondering if I was going to break 6 hours, I resisted the temptation to check. (Okay, so I might have had a little bit of a time goal in mind, but I wasn’t chasing it. I was taking what the HR would give me.)

We hit the single track and the first loop went by pretty happily. I was just trying to get used to the terrain, noting where the hills were, the placement of the aid stations, and trying to keep my HR down. I was planning on keeping it right around 65-67% for the first half of the race, then letting it creep up to no higher than 75% for the latter part of the race. I had also decided not to use my run/walk schedule until after the first loop, just walking/hiking on the uphills for the first loop. That seemed to work pretty well. The uphills were typically :30 to 1:30 in duration, so I felt the strategy was a good one. The only annoying thing at this point was the number of people passing me because of the conservative start.

The second loop I settled in. I started my 10/1 run-walk strategy, with the occasional unscheduled uphill walk. I was eating off the tables for this race. This is a change in strategy for me, and one of the things I was testing. I had taken an Immodium as an insurance policy before the race (also something I had not tried before) and was anxious to see if it would really work to allow me to eat solid food without those inconvenient side trips off the trail. At one of the aid stations, one of the FUR runners who was volunteering had brought cupcakes!! I grabbed one of the mini chocolate ones, decorated in a Halloween theme, which went well with the ghoul who was guarding the aid station (pretty scary by the third time around), and decided to just go for it. Just in case that wasn’t tempting fate enough, I also grabbed a handful of M&Ms and headed off. For the next 30 minutes or so, I kept waiting for the tell-tale rumblings that would normally mean that my digestive system was not going for the eat and run thing, but they never came. I was ecstatic, and I took full advantage of the situation by making plain and peanut M&Ms my fuel of choice for the rest of the race.

Toward the end of the second loop I had a little scare. I had a stabbing pain at the top of my lower leg, below the knee and kind of on the inside: new pain in a new place. For a few minutes, I could not run. More people came flying by me. I asked how far to the aid station, and they said about a mile. Great. I pulled out my phone to text my friend Leslie that I was going to have ANOTHER DNF. I was beside myself. My fingers were sweating, and I could not get the touch screen to work. I heard runners behind me, shoved my phone in the belt, and tried to jog. Pretty soon I could actually jog.  It was still painful, though. As I approached the aid station I realized I was going to need to go a little further to get off of the loop and back to the finish under my own power. I grabbed some aid and walked out of the station, up and down a little hilly part. As I came off that section, I decided to try to jog again. Amazingly when I started going, the pain was completely gone! I could not believe it and thanked the running gods that I had not dropped at the aid station.

The third loop was the worst for me. It was getting hot, and I was running with the fear that the pain in my leg would come back. I  passed a woman who had lost her bottle and who was really suffering in the heat. I slowed down for a bit to give her a drink from my bottle. I could not imagine being out there without fluids. I drank my whole bottle way before the last aid station and was really thirsty by the time I got there. I filled my bottle took another electrolyte cap and drank, drank, drank.  The volunteers there were so great, making sure I had all I needed.

The fourth loop started, and I started to feel really good. My HR had risen a bit on the third lap because of the heat and probably some dehydration, but with only 7 miles to go, and with it still well within the aerobic range, I was feeling great.  I started to pass people, some of whom were women. That made me feel even better. My legs were tired, but I was not nearly as wrecked as I was afraid I would be at that point (with my longest run prior being the 21 miles of the DNF marathon).  The heat was not bothering me as it appeared to be some of the other people. I mean I was ready for it to be over, but I was not thrashed. The hardest part for me on this last loop was not looking at my watch. I was dying to know if I was going to be under my secret 6 hour goal. I thought about how much it would suck if I was 6:01 or something because I had not known and could have gone harder. But I didn’t look. I shook those thoughts off and just said, “follow your plan.” 

The final section of the trail, from the loop back to the finish line, is a booger. It is uphill and full of the most humongous roots. I was terrified of this section, not because I am not good on technical trails, but because ever since the fall where I ruptured my spleen, I am all too aware that another fall like that could actually result in death or at least a trip to the ER and surgery (either of which is such a horrible way to end a  good race). I ended up power hiking up a lot of this section, trying to get to the finish line upright. Finally the probably .5 mile section from hell was finished. The finish line was in sight. I looked anxiously at the clock, which for whatever reason was not showing a time. I crossed the finish, hit the stop, and anxiously pushed through the screens on my watch. HOLY COW!!! Not only did I come in under 6:00. I was at 5:45:48!!! That is my fastest 50k since 2004!!  I was amazed. About that time, they also told me that I had won my age group, which also was a super pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately, also at about that time, the overwhelming soreness hit my legs. I was still walking, but it didn’t matter. The pain was overwhelming. I stumbled to my car, trying to cope with the pain. It was at that point that I realized that my "low-key approach" to packing also meant I had not brought a towel to wipe the dirt, sweat, mud off before changing clothes or getting in the car. I also did not have any ibuprofen. FUR to the rescue!!  Another woman at her car, also a FUR, and someone who obviously has a better approach to packing than I do, supplied me with the 4 ibuprofen I would need to be able to get in the car and drive home.

There was a fairly robust post-race barbecue and get-together going on, but I honestly was in too much pain to go over and meet the people that I was hoping to meet. I headed back to get a bit more diet Coke and a brownie, check the official time, and then decided I just wanted to see if I could manage to get myself folded into the car to drive home. (Amazingly, with all the post race pain, I was barely even sore the next day -- weird.) 

As a whole this race was a huge success and the best test of the Maffetone method that I could have designed. After 9 months of low HR aerobic running and with a race that was run by HR, which is the best measure of my true fitness level (rather than pace), I was able to run my second fastest 50k ever and my fastest 5k since the peak of my fitness in 2004!  I can’t wait to see what I can accomplish with more time training this way and with a higher training volume. 

Related posts:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Product Review: Mt. Tam Hands-Free Dog Leash by OllyDog

Bandit and me finishing up a run
Do you run with your dog? Have you tried a waist leash? If not, this is a product that you will not want to miss. I have been running with my dogs for over 10 years, and this is by far the best hands-free leash I have found. I do have two other hands-free leashes that I had been using for years, but when I got Bandit, I wanted him to have a new one of his own.  Now those older ones just hang on their hooks. The Mt. Tam has several unique features that make it work particularly well for smooth running and which have made it Bandit's and my favorite. Let’s talk about what makes it different from other running leashes I have had.

The first thing that you notice about the leash is the elastic bungee section. 
This is one of the best features, particularly if your dog tends to pull. Initially I did not think that this would be a big deal. I mean if a dog pulls, wouldn’t he or she just pull to the end of the bungee. However, this was not the case, at least not with my puller, Rio. For some reason he seems content to stay within the range of the bungee, and when he pulls to the end, tends to come back in.
The bungee definitely helps with a smoother running experience. It allows the dog to move around a bit on the end of the leash without it jerking like a traditional leash would. When I am running with Bandit, he is a little skittish sometimes about things off on the side of the road. This gives him a little leeway without jerking on my waist every time he moves. The bungee also gives him a little extra distance when he wants it but without having extra leash in to be a potential tripping hazard when he comes back close.

Another great feature of the leash is the handle down by the collar. This is great for when I need to pull Bandit close, either when other people are passing, when I get into a heavy traffic area or at a road crossing, or if another dog is approaching. 

This really helps give a better sense of control. On the leash, as I wear it, there is also another handy loop for my hand about halfway down the leash. I use this one occasionally when cars are passing, just to be sure he is not ranging too far out, or when people are approaching and I want them to see that he is under control without having to change my stride.

The leash is also well constructed. The band itself is only about an inch wide (as compared to about an inch and a half on my other waist leash). This is not really a drawback for me. It feels light around my waist. The adjustment buckles are plastic, and they work very well to easily adjust the length. They do seem durable, but I have to admit that I am on my second version of the leash. I left the leash attached to Bandit one day on the car ride home. He chewed through the waist buckle.(BAD DOG!!!) I think in regular use, and kept out of chewing range, the buckle would be durable. The clip that attaches to the leash is metal, and it works well. The stitching is heavy duty. The handle part down by the collar has a reflective strip to help make us more visible. The length adjusts from 5 to 8 feet, depending on the width of your waist.

The leash is available in a version with a running belt with pouch (for carrying pick-up bags and other essentials). 

I did not get that option because I already had a clip on pouch for that which I have clipped to one of the metal connectors on the leash. It is working well for me now (although I can see how having a pouch to put the full bags in until I find a trash can would beat running with a bag of poop clutched in one hand…). The running belt is also slightly wider, with a spot for the leash to clip on. This would add a little more distance to the leash, which could be a good or bad thing depending. I think the distance on the leash as it is now is perfect. I don’t think I would want it to be any longer, but perhaps if I had a larger dog this might be an advantage. 

If you are thinking about running with your dog, I do think this is an essential piece of equipment. If you run with your dog and have never tried a waist leash, do not wait! You will not regret it!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Guest Race Report: Outrun 24

Leslie -- on the trail!

You all know how I love a guest race report, especially when I am doing nothing exciting at all. While I have been sitting at open, my friends have been out having fun without me. This time my usual partner in crime Leslie Miyasato was out doing something that I have wanted to do for a long time but never have -- a 24 hour run. I was able to share the experience with her in a limited way through the parkcam at the race site. Luckily, she has agreed to share the experience with all of us. Enjoy!!

I’m back!  As many of you may remember from my GroundhogMarathon report in February, my spring goal race for 2014 is Outrun 24 (    Outrun 24 is a timed ultra, perfect for someone as velocity-challenged as me (but also perfect for runners and walkers of all abilities and goals). The idea is to see how many miles you can finish in 24 hours, or before you collapse! Well, Outrun 24 is now history, and I survived to tell about it. My goal was to complete 100K, and I now have a shiny new medal (along with some sore muscles and blisters) to prove I did it. Mission accomplished!!!!   

Outrun 24 is located in Lake MetroParks Chapin Forest Reservation (, in Kirtland, Ohio. The race course is on a one mile loop.   Before you glaze over and decide you would be bored out of your mind going round and round and round, read on!   

I arrived on Friday afternoon to a steady downpour.   My plan was to camp (free camping right at the race start, how could a camper like me turn that down?), but after setting up my tent and collecting my race packet, my hotel back-up plan won out.    A nice dry bed before my first 100K wasn’t too difficult to talk myself into, especially when it was across the street from Bob Evans.   Lori and I have a favorite pre-race meal that includes yummy stuff like biscuits, mashed potatoes and noodles. [So jealous!!]  Yep, just what I needed, even though Lori wasn’t there to share it with me.      

Fueled, and after a good night’s sleep and I up early and ready to take on my first 100K with about 150 new friends.   Outrun 24 racers are a FUN group, as I learned after months of bantering back and forth on the group’s Facebook page.   I was excited to put faces with names.  I was also curious about the hill I’d be tackling 62 times!    

The race begins at 8:00 a.m on Saturday morning, and ends at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.     This year we were treated to cool temperatures and sunshine.    After Friday’s rain…..we are talking ideal!    
Ditching the jacket as the day warmed up. Always stylish though!!

At 8:00 a.m. we were off.     My first goal was to finish 50K in around 7.5 hours, to allow for plenty of time for my second 50K, aka, uncharted territory for me.     I knew I’d slow down as the miles increased, and wanted to allow plenty of extra time should I slow to a crawl.    Especially with the hill.    It’s not that the hill is that long, or that steep.   It just seems that it’s getting that way each time you go up it.    By the end, my friend Sandy and I were counting how many more times we had to go up it.    3-2-1-happy dance!!!!!    
Sandy and Leslie -- Sorry, no video of the happy dance

It was time to collect our medals and try to get a few hours of sleep.   Lucky me,  I had my frost covered tent!    Not the best place for post race chill and stiff muscles.   Perhaps I should have kept walking.    Hmmmm?????

Now, let’s talk about this round and round thing.   It’s GREAT!     

Friendly People!
Not only do you see the same friendly people over and over again (and be in awe of the top runners as they continually lap you and are still running strong into the night hours), you have an aid station every single mile.     

We are talking a GREAT aid station with friendly volunteers.    There was no need to pack any of my own food for Outrun 24.    I love boiled potatoes, but I also love grilled cheese and pizza.    I had to control myself early in the race, so I didn’t overeat.  Everything anyone would need for an ultra, from food to GU, was there.    

Besides great aid, this trail race has another bonus………flush toilets in a heated building.     No need to dodge poison ivy and wildlife on this course.    I’m now officially spoiled!    Another perk is there is no need for drop bags.    Set up a tent, set up a table, or just toss your gear on the ground.   You’ll pass by every mile.   Perfect for those of us that showed up solo.    Also perfect if you bring your  “crew."  They can just chill in lawn chairs and watch you zip by. This makes Outrun
24 a great family event!    

The kids that came to support mom/dad or grandma/grandpa were having a blast cheering for those racing, as well as running an occasional loop.    Ditto with dogs and spouses/significant others.    I saw happy dogs out for a loop, and a few couples strolling hand-in-hand during the night loops.  
Zack, the race director, with Leslie and Sandy

Outrun 24’s race director, Zack does a fantastic job organizing this race.    He even personally presents each finisher with their medal or belt buckle.    Finisher medals are available for 50K & 100K, and a belt buckle for 100 miles.   There are also overall distance awards and age group awards (I won my age group for an added bonus).    No matter what your distance goal, this is a great race and I highly recommend it.    Think about it for 2015!   I know I am (even though I said “never again” at about mile 50).    

Congratulations to Leslie on her awesome accomplishment!!!  I don't know about you, but I am ready to go for next year!!

Official blister and chafing prevention for Leslie at Outrun 24:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Is It Time to Replace My Running Shoes?

I have been pretty lax on posting lately because I have been pretty busy with my coaching duties and with my aforementioned "day job."  However, I recently got asked to do a question and answer session for a group I belong to, and I realize that some of the questions would actually make excellent posts for here at the blog.

The first of these was a question about how to know when a running shoe needs replaced.  Here is my answer:

Question: What are the best indicators it may be time to buy new shoes? I did a 5k today and the first time I tried running my knees hurt terribly. When I was jogging  last summer no knee pain. So I am wondering if it may be related to needing new shoes.

Answer:  This is an excellent question. It is possible that it could be time to by new shoes. There are several indicators that your shoes could be worn, and having little aches and pains on an easy run (when there is no other apparent cause), could be one of them. For people who are in tune with their bodies, this is often the first sign.

There are some other ways that you can get a clue. One is to actually look at your shoes. This may sound funny, but most of us don’t really look at our shoes. No, it is not just because we are out for the early morning run before our eyes are all the way open. It is because putting on our shoes is so automatic that we often don’t see them. 

Take a look at your shoes. Ignore for now how dirty and sweaty the upper is. Instead, turn them over and look for wear on the sole. Are the heels or midfoot worn down. For me, I strike on the outside of my foot, and if I turn a shoe over, I can often see clearly that the edge of the shoe is almost gone. Oops!!

Because of where my wear is, I often start turning my ankle because the shoe is so worn, I am falling off of the outside. On the other hand, if your shoes are worn down on the inside, you could be putting more torque on your knees and hips. Also, look at the shoe from the rear. Is it listing off to one side, like the upper is sliding off the midsole? If so, it is probably time to replace the shoe as well, for the aforementioned reason of putting strange torque on the knees and hips.

Another area of the shoe that can break down is the midsole. That is the area between the bottom of the shoe and the part where your foot sits. Over time the cushioning there can become compressed and stop giving you the cushioning you need. Midsoles generally are made from some type of foam material and can wear out from being used for miles and miles, but they can also  wear from being wet (why you aren’t supposed to wash running shoes).  Sun and heat can also break down the foam. If you have been drying your shoes with heat this winter, that could affect things.

The test for this type of wear is to look at the side of the shoe to see if there are lots of lines and wrinkles. If there are, that means the midsole is wearing down. A second test is to push your thumb into the midsole at the middle. Does it bounce back well, or does it stay pretty flat? If it doesn’t seem to rebound, the midsole may be worn out, even if the rest of the shoe is not showing a lot of wear.

However, the best way to know when to replace running shoes is to keep a log of the mileage you have on them. This is an absolute must!!  If you only have one pair of shoes, this is fairly easy. Just write down the day you got them, and then add up your weekly mileage since then. (What???? You aren’t keeping a mileage log??!! Start right now!).  The advice on when to replace shoes varies from 300-600 miles from most sources.

This is a pretty personal thing and also varies by shoes. I find that I start to notice the lack of cushioning (by feel) on my shoes at about 350. I replace on the low end, but I do have one shoe model that I can get many more miles on. I have several pairs of this one shoe, and I am over 500 on two of them and still wear them without a problem (I just don’t use them for my long runs).  On the other end of things is a shoe like the  Kinvara, that I dearly love but which I have to replace usually around 300 because of outsole wear (annoying!!!).

Once you start keeping a log, you will start to get a sense of how long shoes last for you. Then when you start getting that achy feeling, you can check the numbers and decide if the shoe is done or whether it is just one of those days.

A final recommendation to prolong shoe life and to avoid injury is to have more than one pair of shoes and rotate them. The foam in the midsole needs some time to refresh itself, and running in the shoes every day does not give the shoes time to refresh as well. Having two pairs helps with this process. Also, if you have two different models of shoes, you get a slightly different foot strike in each, which helps avoid repetitive motion injuries, especially for marathoners. Of course, keeping the mileage log gets a little trickier here.